“The fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may even have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias. Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to.”
Michelle Alexander, from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
I am white and I’m going to talk about race. Stop reading now if you have a problem with that. I don’t like controversy; I hate offending people. And no self-hating shame drags me down further than remorse over a race-related gaffe or insensitivity. However, I am willing to admit that I carry unwanted racial bias. I usually blame it on growing up in the South, and the influence of my parents. My dad grew up in Atlanta, Georgia during the nineteen-forties and fifties, and my mother grew up a little farther north, in Virginia, but it wasn’t necessarily any less racist there. I certainly don’t consider myself a racist, far from it. But I’m not going to say I don’t carry any trace of racial bias and I think people who say this are not being honest with themselves.
I know people who still take pride in their southern heritage; they call anyone from north of Maryland a “Yankee.” Where I live, in the northeast, the “Yankees” are a baseball team. No surprise then that the southern states have the highest incarceration rates in the country. By incarceration rate I mean the number of black men who are locked up. Because in some states, 90% of the people put in prison for drug offenses are African American.
This is not meant to be an incendiary political post. My posts are often inspired by whatever I am reading, and I happen to be reading a book about men, black and brown, who are thrown into prison for minor drug offenses. For example, possession of a small amount of recreational weed or cocaine. White people, research shows, take more drugs than black people. But most white people don’t go to prison for it.
When white kids get caught with drugs on them—well, white kids don’t usually get caught. Because they don’t get stopped and frisked when they slink into 7-Eleven for a bottle of Fanta orange. Black kids the same age do get stopped. And searched. And arrested. They end up branded felons.
I’m not speaking from any self-righteous position here. I don’t work with kids in in the ghetto; I don’t do community service for men with felonies. I’m just a typical, self-centered white person who doesn’t have to worry about getting stopped and frisked on my way to the train station.
Now that I have read Michelle Alexander’s book, I know that a terrible thing is happening as a result of the “War on Drugs.” I kind of knew before, but now I really know. Alexander explains it all quite clearly—when the war started, why the war started, how the war is going, the lives it has destroyed.
In Washington, DC, “three out of every four black men can expect to spend some time behind bars.”
I can’t say anymore that I don’t know this. Neither can you.
(If you want to argue about this, please don’t do it here.
Do it here instead with someone who can straighten you out.)
dialogue on film clip is from “Imitation of Life,” directed by Douglas Sirk, 1959.
“The thing that’s the worst part is that a hundred years from now, hell, we ain’t even gotta wait that long, the next day, ain’t a living soul gonna care. Not a single memory of who you were is gonna survive. You won’t have left a mark, and nobody will even know you were ever here. You will be dead way before you die. You understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
–Marion Isaac McClinton, from the play “Hunters of the Soul”
SOUL-SEARCHING FOR DUMMIES
1. Start with a simple but surprising fact, something you might have learned in kindergarten. For example, if all the insects in the entire world were stacked on the seat of a giant teeter-totter, and all the human beings in the world were stacked on the other side, the insects would weigh more.
2. Think about this for five minutes. Stay with it.
3. Start asking questions. Am I important? Am I unique? Am I as fleeting and insignificant as a butterfly and not as pretty?
4. Apply these themes to your relationships with other people. For example, if I don’t matter, than the stylishness of my workout clothes doesn’t matter, and my place on the social ladder doesn’t matter, and test scores don’t matter. Money doesn’t even matter. Maybe I should be nicer to other people and stop elbowing my way to the front.
5. Think about something else.
“How does a pearl develop in an oyster? A jagged grain of sand makes its way into the oyster’s shell and makes its life unbearable. The oyster exudes slime to cover the grain of sand and the slime eventually hardens into a pearl. The oyster nearly dies in the process. To hell with the pearl, give me the healthy oyster!”
Bertolt Brecht, from the play Galileo
Remember that little kid in Brooklyn who was walking home from school alone? He asked a man for directions and instead of getting help he got suffocated and chopped into pieces.
Remember those ladies in Cleveland who were walking home and the bus driver pulls over and says, “Want a ride?” Then he imprisons them for a million years and does unspeakable things.
What’s wrong with me? Sitting around thinking about bad people, bad things that happen. Actually, let’s just say evil. Sitting around and mulling it over. Evil.
Well, maybe I have to. Call it the urge to make sense of horror.
We do like talking about it. We need to know that evil villains are out there, and we need to know just what the hell they are doing with themselves. But Michael Moore convinced me that absorbing the stream of frightening news stories makes me a consumer chimp. We get scared, and then we go out and spend money. And SO many things scare us. It can be liposuction malpractice. It can be a tornado. It can be government spies.
So if I don’t inform myself, then I also won’t have to numb myself. With shopping, for example, though there are many mind-numbing activities and behaviors available.
But I have to inform myself. If I don’t, then the whole world will just slip away.
Actually, that’s pretty tempting. The entire world. Gone.
No, that would make me exotic, irresponsible. None of my friends would approve.
So I will just have to be scared. Or numb.
“Throughout the day the doctor was conscious that the slightly dazed feeling that came over him whenever he thought about the plague was growing more pronounced. Finally he realized that he was afraid.” –Albert Camus, from The Plague
Someone wise once said the choices we make define us far more than our abilities.
It may have been Harry Potter who said that. Or Harry Potter’s teacher.
When the first Harry Potter book came out, my adult friends were gobbling it up, and this made me sad/mad. Because most of these adult friends did not read challenging grown-up books or ask themselves challenging grown-up questions, though they were bright enough and educated enough to do so. In my annoying opinion, they were the obvious people to be going deep, and they refused. Maybe their lack of stamina (curiosity? passion?)—-maybe it didn’t make me sad. Maybe it scared me.
What about the guys in this video? They are going deep. Deep-end deep. Don’t-take-my-picture deep. I shot the “seated” footage in NYC yesterday. I ripped the dancing from a You Tube offering, which was shot in Santa Monica, California.
New York and Santa Monica: places where many of my thoughtful friends are “having lives.” But the situation is this: people have to make a buck. J.K. Rowling knows this. And we need our little pleasures. Nothing wrong with a little fantasy fiction, in which one loses all sense of time and human weariness.
What’s the problem?
The problem is this:
The Admissions Committee of Hogwarts Academy has completed its review of your application. You have many fine qualities but you are not a wizard, and you are not a fictional character, so I am sorry I must inform you that we will not be able to offer you a place in the entering class of 2013 or a position on one of our alternate lists.
Shirley Maclaine may have an opening in one of her workshops.
(music on clip is Eminem, Cleaning Out My Closet)
“Tactlessness is a pain-giving failure to hit upon the right moment; your tactless man will accost a busy friend and ask his advice, or serenade his sweetheart when she is sick of a fever. Should you be but now returned from a long journey, he will invite you to a walk.” –Theophrastus
It must be relaxing to be a buffoon.
No one expecting tact from you.
No one expecting to actually like you.
No pressure to like anyone in return.
You are relaxed, dear buffoon.
You are an idiot.
Good for you. It’s exhausting over here with the non-fools.
We have to say and do the right by everyone all the time.
We fall down. We say something stupid.
Me, it’s when I’m nervous.
I agree that the object of my tactlessness has the right to resent and despise me,
to judge me, to run me down in mixed company.
The village idiot. What a relief.
about the image (above)